An air-sampling smoke detector is capable of detecting microscopic particles of smoke. Most air-sampling detectors are aspirating smoke detectors, which work by actively drawing air through a network of small-bore pipes laid out above or below a ceiling in parallel runs covering a protected area. Small holes drilled into each pipe form a matrix of holes (sampling points), providing an even distribution across the pipe network. Air samples are drawn past a sensitive optical device, often a solid-state laser, tuned to detect the extremely small particles of combustion. Air-sampling detectors may be used to trigger an automatic fire response, such as a gaseous fire suppression system, in high-value or mission-critical areas, such as archives or computer server rooms.
Most air-sampling smoke detection systems are capable of a higher sensitivity than point type smoke detectors and provide multiple levels of alarm threshold, such as Alert, Action, Fire 1 and Fire 2. Thresholds may be set at levels across a wide range of smoke levels. This provides earlier notification of a developing fire than spot type smoke detection, allowing manual intervention or activation of automatic suppression systems before a fire has developed beyond the smouldering stage, thereby increasing the time available for evacuation and minimizing fire damage.